Associated Press
TCU defensive end Jerry Hughes (98) tackles Utah running back Eddie Wide (36) in the first half of an NCAA football game Saturday, Nov. 14, 2009, in Fort Worth, Texas.

LAS VEGAS — If the 2010 Mountain West Conference media preseason poll is right, both Utah and BYU will be looking up at TCU — again — in the final standings.

Results of the annual poll were released Tuesday during the MWC football media day at the Red Rock Resort in Las Vegas. The Horned Frogs, the defending conference champions, were the unanimous pick to claim the league title, followed by the Utes and Cougars. A year ago, BYU finished second and Utah ended up third.

"All I know for sure is that TCU, with how they performed last year and with what they have coming back personnel-wise, they certainly deserve to be No. 1," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham.

TCU, which earned a bid to a BCS bowl in 2009, received 279 points and all 31 first-place votes.

The Utes, who are entering its final season in the MWC before it joins the Pac-10, were picked to finish second with 242 points. The Cougars were predicted to finish third with 207 points.

In the preseason poll, Air Force was slotted to finish fourth (195 points), followed by Wyoming (147), San Diego State (128), Colorado State (96), UNLV (56) and New Mexico (45).

TCU, Utah and BYU have finished in the top three in the league standings the past four seasons.

Cougar coach Bronco Mendenhall said Air Force has proven itself as a contender while the rest of the league is improving.

"If you look at it historically, the results say that there are three top 25 teams on a yearly basis, then there's the rest of the league with Air Force being a consistent No. 4," Mendenhall said. "I would consider it 'The Big Four.' The rest are kind of climbing.

"But when the season hits, I think they're all the same. That's how we treat them, anyway. ... The strength of the league continues to improve."

As strong as the league was in 2009, "This conference will be stronger, top to bottom, than it was a year ago," said TCU coach Gary Patterson.

2010 MWC Preseason Media Poll

1. TCU (31) 279 pts.

2. Utah 242

3. BYU 207

4. Air Force 195

5. Wyoming 147

6. San Diego St. 128

7. Colorado St. 96

8. UNLV 56

9. New Mexico 45

(First-place votes in parentheses)

Contributing: Dirk Facer